Remember Levi Strauss & Co’s new campaign called the ‘Live in Levi’s’ that highlights the fact, despite their iconic 19th century beginnings, they are on top of the social age.
The message was clear: If you wear Levi jeans, you live in Levi’s.
But the journey wasn’t.
About three years ago, there was a flurry of stories heralding doom for the denim, as shoppers started wearing leggings and jogger pants not just to the gym but for virtually any occasion.
The “athleisure” trend undoubtedly threw jeans makers for a loop, including Levi Strauss, the corporate parent of global market-share leader Levi’s.
“It drives me crazy that women wear yoga pants to nice restaurants—denim would look so much better. But they’re choosing athleisure because it’s more comfortable,” CEO Chip Bergh wrote in a July-August 2018 edition of Harvard Business Review magazine.
That drove Bergh, who joined Levi’s in 2011 after spending 28 years at Procter & Gamble, to create denim with new technologies, such as four-way stretch—fabric that recovers quickly and doesn’t get baggy at the knees (a common problem with stretch jeans).
“I told our designers that we had to fix this problem.”
Since the relaunch, Levi’s women’s business has experienced 11 quarters of consistent growth, and sales have increased from less than $800 million to more than $1 billion annually.
The improvement at Levi’s under tough conditions should send a message about what’s possible to the many apparel brands in the wilderness right now.
What further distinguishes Levi’s from others it that it didn’t try to masquerade as something it’s not.
“When I decided to accept the CEO role, I saw it as a noble cause. I wanted to leave a legacy and make the company great again,” wrote Bergh, adding that he believed the company had an opportunity—and an obligation—to do better.
From shuffling the top leadership team to studying the market and its customers, Bergh brought significant changes in the privately held company that is today in its best shape in years.
During his second month in the job, Bergh visited Bangalore and asked the people there to set up an in-home visit.
An in-home typically starts with broad questions about lifestyle and interests and then narrows down to how the customer uses the product and views the category.
Bergh met a 29-year-old professional woman from an upper-middle-class family.
She had about 10 pairs of jeans—Hudson, Guess, Calvin Klein, and some others.
They talked about each pair of jeans from her collection of 10—what she liked, what she didn’t, and when she wore it. She had two pairs of Levi’s, and they talked about those last.
Some of her jeans were the go-to jeans—the ones we wear day-to-day while some were meant for university.
For her Levi’s, she said something arresting: “You wear other jeans, but you live in Levi’s.”
According to Bergh, “… her words captured the essence of our brand. ‘Live in Levi’s’ became our advertising tagline. That experience is an illustration of how much value can come from listening to consumers.”
Apart from a new tag line, the company also reworked on its plan to grow revenue and profits. Its new-store plans are focused on overseas markets, a smart play now that international sales comprise more than half its total haul.
And although it has increased revenue and profits, the iconic brand still has much room for growth.
“Levi’s lost a generation of consumers in the early 2000s, but today our customers are younger than ever—and we’re gaining momentum as we bring them back,” wrote Bergh.